These days, it takes little more than a name, some MP3 files, and a Bandcamp page to have a record label. With more bands than ever and less financial at risk in an exceedingly digital modern music landscape, it safe to say there have never been more independent record labels putting out music than ever before, both in Milwaukee and throughout the world. In 2005, years before the era of “boutique” digital download card clearing houses and any semblance of a vinyl resurgence, then-Mistreaters guitarist Kevin Meyer pressed a Black Lips live album to wax and, in doing so, launched Dusty Medical Records because “[he] just wanted to see if [he] could put out records.”
After close to 50 releases by about 35 acts from around the country (the majority based in Milwaukee) and Canada, and staggering music industry augmentation, the Milwaukee label is still putting out physical records. If that’s not cause enough for celebration, Dusty Medical’s 10th anniversary is. Between Thursday and Sunday, more than 20 acts will take to seven Milwaukee venues and businesses in two neighborhoods to commemorate one of the city’s longest-running and most influential record labels. Oddly, Meyer credits a heartbreaking NFL game for his decision to organize Dusty Medical 10th Anniversary Fest and not let the decade mark elapse unacknowledged.
“Right after the Packers season ended, much like many people around here, I was wondering what I was going to do with my time now that I was done watching football,” Meyer says. “I knew that it was the 10th year and figured I could either do it or not.”
Before committing to it, Meyer approached members of some of the since-disbanded acts in the Dusty catalog in hopes of making the event a truly special affair. Of those bands, The Goodnight Loving was the white whale for the fest. Mayer credits the garage rock outfit’s 2006 record Cemetery Trails—the first of three albums the band would put out on Dusty Medical—as one of his label’s best selling and most critically acclaimed releases and an indication that he might actually know what he’s doing. CMJ New Music Monthly’s editor in chief called it the best album of 2006, and both pressings (1,000 copies total) have long been sold out.
“In a lot of ways, they were the heart and soul of the label and kind of the flagship band, so it was really special to me that they were open to the idea playing the show,” Meyer says. “I don’t want to go as far as to say the festival was off if they weren’t playing, but the festival really needed them to be part of it. Thankfully, they agreed [to play].”
Joining The Goodnight Loving on the festival’s four-night, seven-show lineup is an eclectic grab bag of bands that were or presently are on Dusty’s roster. There will be local staples like Space Raft, Sugar Stems, Midwest Beat, and Platinum Boys. Additionally, there will be out-of-town acts like Reigning Sound frontman Greg Cartwright (Asheville/Memphis), Tang Soleil (Montreal), LiveFastDie (New York), A/V Murder (Chicago), Johnny Ill Band (Detroit), and a couple other surprise visitors. Beyond The Goodnight Loving’s return, Tuff Bananas will also reunite for the festival.
Midnight Reruns singer-guitarist and Midwives guitarist Graham Hunt has been a fan of Dusty Medical Records for much of its existence. He says he regularly listened to The Goodnight Loving, Midwest Beat, and Plexi 3 in high school, and was influenced in adolescence by the label’s overarching sound. Reruns will play the Club Garibaldi leg of the event on Thursday, and Midwives will play Saturday’s early show at Quarter’s. In October, Midwives will put out its Cowboy Songs 45 on the label and later that month, Midnight Reruns’ sophomore full-length, Force Of Nurture, will round out Dusty Medical’s 2015 output.
“It seemed like an obvious fit. It seemed really comfortable. [Meyer] was really into the record, so it just seemed to make sense,” Hunt says. “It’s cool to be involved in something that’s a local, homegrown type of thing. There’s some pride that comes along with that. It feels like we’re part of this family that’s made in Milwaukee, and that’s pretty cool.”
“I’m not aware of another rock ‘n roll record label in Milwaukee’s history that has had more success or longevity,” Chappelle says. “I was there for most of the conception of DMR, I really don’t think Kevin had any of this in mind when he started out. I see DMR as having a lasting effect on Milwaukee music, encouraging bands that don’t rely on the boring template for indie pop success.”
Chappelle will display artwork at the festival’s opening reception at Acme Records on Thursday night, and Drugs Dragons will play at Cactus Club on Friday. To Meyer, the entire weekend will serve as a family reunion of sorts for a group of musicians with a wide range of ages and styles who hail from a variety of locations that share the sole commonality of having their songs cast into the world with the help of a father with a full-time job and a passion for great music.
“I don’t think of myself as a guy that runs a label. I think of myself as a fellow musician and a fellow music lover who happens to be insane enough to want to bring upon himself all the nuts and bolts that go into getting a record put out,” Meyer says. “I have an expensive hobby that’s really fun and brings people together. The music brings people together and this is just helping that happen.”
Dusty Medical 10th Anniversary Festival starts Thursday, August 27 and runs through Sunday, August 30. Weekend passes cost $42 and advance single-show tickets are also available (on the drop down menu). Check out the full lineup and show schedule here.